With all the games crowded into the first six weeks of the season, it’s been a while since we’ve done a Mailbag. I have a few questions in the hopper, taking care of one today, but there’s room for more. If you have a query regarding the Portland Trail Blazers, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With this scoring outburst and national focus that has come up from CJ McCollum it got me thinking. Is CJ the best player from the 2013 draft? If not him, who? The Greek Freak or Rudy Gobert might give him a run. What do you think?
Well, it’s certainly not Anthony Bennett. Cleveland, paper cut, salt.
McCollum’s contemporaries from that draft include the following notables: Allen Crabbe, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schroeder, Kelly Olynyk, Cody Zeller, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Victor Oladipo. Despite the lack of break-out stars, the list isn’t shabby.
Comparing players across a four-year spectrum is tricky, as CJ spent his first year injured and his second playing behind veteran guards. Only in the last couple seasons has he blossomed into the 20 ppg range. Even with one hand tied behind his back he leads his draft class in three-point percentage and ranks third in points per game. If things remain on course he’ll jet past Carter-Williams and overtake Oladipo more gradually, ascending to the top of the class, but Antetokounmpo will give him a run for his money. If scoring is your metric, CJ is your guy.
The advance numbers tell a humbler story. McCollum ranks 11th in total win shares, 14th in win shares per 48, a distant 13th in Value over Replacement Player. Gobert is the undisputed king of all three categories, though it should be noted that it’s easier to make an impact in Gobert’s singular center role than through McCollum’s shared guard duties. Mason Plumlee ranks high in all three as well and few would argue that he’s the best player on the board.
The problem for McCollum is that Antetokounmpo also ranks highly in overall win shares and VORP while CJ does not. Measuring current (as opposed to career) production, Antetokounmpo edges out McCollum in True Shooting Percentage .591 to .582 and his PER of 26.3 dwarfs McCollum’s 20.0. Rebounding and assist advantages help (Giannis at 8.6 and 5.9 vs. CJ at 3.9 and 3.7). Milwaukee’s young star almost makes the multi-faceted McCollum look like a one-trick pony by comparison.
If asked to pick just one player from the 2013 draft class to build their team around, most folks would probably give CJ a hard look. Homespun wisdom says he’d ultimately fall to Antetokounmpo, if nothing else because McCollum can be named among a dozen great young guards in the league right now while Giannis is a nonesuch. That wisdom would be borne out by any one-for-one trade proposal. The Blazers would need to seriously consider such a swap; Milwaukee would hang up the phone.
For those reasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo probably wears the Best of 2013 crown even though McCollum’s credentials are sky-high. (They’d be even higher if he were the undisputed feature guard on a team.) If CJ could get serious separation in the scoring department he’d probably earn a longer look but that’ll be difficult considering their respective circumstances.
The biggest take-away in all of this is that McCollum was drafted 10th and Antetokounmpo 15th. Both teams should be plenty happy with what they got.
How about you? Would you argue for the Greek Freak or the hometown kid? Or would you go off the board for Gobert (drafted 27th, by the way...this was a sweet low-pick draft) or even Oladipo with his defense? Opinions and debates are welcome. Keep those Mailbag questions coming!